PennApps Spring 2013: The largest college hackathon just got even bigger

By Pulak Mittal (W’14/Eng’14: Management & Technology Program)

I wrote a post about the growth of PennApps back in September, a few days after the fall hackathon. I’m pretty excited to report that PennApps Spring 2013, which took place last weekend, Jan 18-20, managed to grow even more. The hackathon attracted 450+ students from 40 universities around the world, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, ETH Zurich, Waterloo, UT Austin, and many more.

After three years of focus on growth, we’re happy to say that PennApps has gone far beyond the size and prominence that any of the organizers expected. Even with this scale, this past hackathon ran smoothest ever, and we managed to successfully pack in a wide array of events in a whirlwind hackathon weekend. From Tuesday evening through Friday afternoon, guest speakers from Facebook, AppNexus, Microsoft, and the New York Times, as well as some Penn student hackers, gave talks on a variety of technical topics, helping attendees prepare for the awesome hacks they would build over the weekend.

By mid-day Friday, many students from visiting schools started reaching Penn. I got a few texts asking for the Internet access code (hackers have their priorities straight!), and also received some help moving boxes, from the crew of 47 (!!) Michigan hackers [pictured below] who had hopped on a bus for the 12 hour ride over from Ann Arbor the previous evening.

47 Michigan hackers

Once things got rolling, the organization went fairly smoothly, especially as many of our exec team had been around to help organize back in September. There were certainly a few bumps along the way – everyone hacking on the second floor of the Towne building lost power for about an hour Friday night, which forced us to rewire most of the tables on the floor – but many of the challenges we faced had familiar solutions. For example, when a hacker came to HQ asking for a drink since the coolers had run empty, we gave him a drink of his choice as well as another case, to help refill the cooler.

One of the best parts of PennApps is the student experience – the events that we organize to give students occasional breaks from hacking. We had multiple popsicle deliveries from the Lil Pop Shop, which were a huge hit. We organized a midnight run to Powelton Pizza late Friday night, a game of Quizzo Saturday afternoon, and SendGrid booked the Penn ice rink for us for a couple hours Saturday night.


Finally, on Sunday, teams began to demo. Because of how large PennApps has grown, we no longer were able to allow all teams to demo during the final demo session. Instead, we split teams up into 3 groups, and each team demoed to all the other teams in its group during the first round of demos. The top 20 teams got a chance to present their hacks to a packed Irvine Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, consistently impressing the audience. First place went to Inventory, from UC Berkeley, winning $4000 and a trip to Google HQ to demo their hack. Second place went to Virtual Perspective, from ETH Zurich, winning $2500. Third place went to Webtube, from Penn, winning $1000.

You can watch the livestream from the final round of demos – the apps are *good*. We’re rooting for many of the teams to keep working on these past the hackathon, and help increase the PennApps startup count! To that end, we are hosting a “finishathon” this Saturday starting at noon in McClelland Hall, Ware College House, to encourage students to take prior hacks and make them finished products. The quality of student entrepreneurship at Penn is at an all-time high – let’s see if PennApps  can help take that even higher!

Pulak Mittal
Pulak Mittal

Bio: Pulak Mittal is a junior in the M&T program studying computer science and marketing. He has done internships at Facebook and Piazza, and is currently a TA for CIS 121. At Penn, he is lead organizer of PennApps and president of the Dining Philosophers.  Follow Pulak on Twitter.

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